Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Replenishing the Earth and Ancient Human Remains?

According to the ASV and KJV translations, God instructed Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth …” (Gen. 1:28, emp. added KLM), with the same directive given to Noah and his sons (9:1). Since the word “replenish” essentially means “populate again,” does this indicate a cycle of human races being created and proliferating, destroyed, then God starting over again? Would this explain the discovery of human remains tens of thousands of years old?

The Hebrew verb in these texts is mala, meaning to “fill.” The same word is also used in Gen. 1:22; 6:11, 13; 21:19; 24:16; etc. The KJV and the ASV render it “replenish” in Gen. 1:28 and 9:1, whereas most other English versions consistently employ the word “fill,” including the New King James Version and New American Standard Bible (revisions of these older works). No cyclical rise and destruction and replacement of human races is explicitly revealed in scripture, only the creation, the flood, and the future judgment.


As for the discovery of human remains dated older than 10,000 years, radiocarbon dating works on the assumption that rates of carbon production and decay have remained consistent for thousands if not millions of years (uniformitarianism). But this is an unprovable assumption and, in my opinion, improbable. Environmental factors, such as instantaneous creation, a catastrophic flood, centuries of volcanic eruptions and forest fires, pollution, et al., would significantly disrupt alleged environmental constancy. Assumptions have to be made about starting points and conditions in the distant past, as well as decay rates through the ages, guided by evolutionary presuppositions. Antitheistic scientists tend to speak definitively about the age of humans and the age of the universe, but not everyone shares their presuppositions or blindly trusts their conclusions. 


I side with the psalmist’s appraisal of divine revelation, “The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever” (Psalm 119:160 NKJV).


--Kevin L. Moore

 

Related PostsSix Days of Creation

 

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Wednesday, 24 November 2021

If Jesus is God, to whom did he pray?

This question was asked of an incarcerated brother in Christ by a fellow inmate attempting to challenge his faith. The brother requested help with a simple response to what appears to be a perplexing issue. The question itself, when asked in a disparaging and condescending manner, demonstrates a misconception of the God of the Bible. The idea of “God” as a solitary entity or single mathematical unit is overly simplistic, as if he were a cartoonish white bearded old man in the clouds. It would be comparable to asking, if Kevin is man (human) and his father is man (human), how can man speak to man?

In Acts 17:29 “God” is described as to theion, an expression referring to everything that belongs to the nature of God and is variously rendered “the Divine Nature,” “the Godhead,” “the Deity,” “the Divine,” “the Divinity” (cf. Rom. 1:20; Col. 2:9; 2 Pet. 1:2-4). The human equivalent would be “man” in the sense of “human nature,” “human race,” “humanity,” or “mankind.” Just like the word “man” can be used to describe either an individual (Rom. 5:12) or all persons who comprise the human race (Psa. 8:4), the word “God” is used similarly. The Bible clearly affirms there is only one true God (1 Cor. 8:4; Deut. 4:35, 39; 6:4; etc.), and since God is the Divine Nature, there is only one Divine Nature. 

 

Seeing that the word “man” doesn’t imply that humanity is comprised of a single person, the fundamental question is whether or not the Bible indicates a plurality within the one God. The Unitarian concept of God is a single divine personage, while the Trinitarian concept is one God (the Divine Nature) consisting of three distinct personages (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) in perfect unity. In Gen. 1:26 God speaks of himself using plural pronouns: “us,” “our” (cf. 3:22; 11:7). What does this indicate about God? The Hebrew word translated “God” in Gen. 1:1-31; 2:2-22; 3:1-23, etc. is elohim (the plural form of el), found 2,570 times in the Hebrew scriptures. This plural form, in reference to Almighty God, is used with singular verbs and adjectives throughout the OT, more clearly revealed in the NT. 

 

In Matt. 28:19 the plurality within the one God (Divine Nature) is identified as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Since “name” in this verse is singular, a unity among these three is presumed (see also Mark 1:9-11; Rom. 8:9-11; 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6). Though mentioned here collectively, elsewhere the Father is acknowledged as “God” (Phil. 2:11), Jesus is acknowledged as “God” (John 1:1; 20:28), the Holy Spirit is implicitly acknowledged as “God” (Acts 5:3-4). Nevertheless, the biblical doctrine of monotheism forbids the conclusion that there are three separate gods and therefore requires a unity of these three divine Persons as one God or a single Divine Nature. In John 17:20-23 a plurality of human persons is depicted as “one,” providing a parallel to the similar concept of a plurality of divine Persons depicted as “one” (see also Gen. 2:24; 11:6; Judg. 6:16; John 10:16, 30; 11:52; 17:11; Acts 17:26; 1 Cor. 12:12). 

 

Jesus, as God (equal member of the Godhead, possessing the divine nature), willingly took on human nature and flesh—the incarnation (John 1:1-14), thereby placing himself in subordination to God [the Father] (Phil. 2:5-9) to whom he prayed while on earth (John 17:1ff.; etc.). All passages dealing with Christ’s subordination (1 Cor. 11:3; etc.) refer to his role in the flesh but do not detract from his divine essence. The descriptive expression, “the Son of God,” signifies both subordination (of position) and equality (of nature); cf. John 5:17-18; 10:17-33.

 

Attempting to simplify something as complex as God is quite a challenge. We could begin with a biblical definition of God as “the Divine Nature” (Acts 17:29), comprised of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). Jesus became human (John 1:14), and as such he prayed to the heavenly Father (Matt. 26:39). 

 

--Kevin L. Moore

 

Related PostsThe Triune Godhead

 

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Monday, 15 November 2021

If God hates divorce, what about Ezra 9–10?

During the eight decades between the first return from Babylonian exile (538 BC) and the second return (458 BC), Israelite men (including priests) had married local pagan women and were then compelled to put them away with what appears to have been divine approval (Ezra 9–10; cf. Neh. 13:23-30). If God hates divorce, why would this have been sanctioned?

Qualifying Information


Malachi, a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah,1 prophesied to the post-exilic Jews (ca. 450-430 BC), and the biblical record of his message provides enlightening background information. According to Malachi 2:10-17, Jewish men had apparently divorced their lawful spouses to marry these pagan women. In vv. 15-16 Malachi reaffirms that the dissolution of a legitimate marriage is contrary to God’s original plan (cf. Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-6), and whether the text says God hates divorce (ISV, N/ASV, N/KJV, N/RSV) or a man hates and sends her away (ESV, HCSB, NIV),2 the Lord clearly considers this unconscionable behavior. 


The second chapter of Malachi reveals that these unscriptural divorces and subsequent remarriages weakened the nation and resulted from profane desires (v. 11), involved betraying innocent spouses (v. 14a), broke covenant vows (v. 14b), caused separation from God (vv. 12, 13), and accompanied spiritual self-deception (v. 17). The Lord expects faithfulness and permanence in marriage. “‘For I am Yahweh, I do not change … Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says Yahweh of hosts ” (Mal. 3:6-7).


Harmonizing Ezra and Malachi


In addition to breaking God’s marriage law by divorcing lawful spouses, a number of these post-exilic Jewish men had also disregarded the divine injunction to not intermingle with the pagan inhabitants of the land (Ezra 9:10-14; 10:2, 10, 17, 44). Genuine repentance, therefore, despite some opposition (Ezra 10:15), involved severing these unauthorized relationships (Ezra 10:3-5, 11, 19). 


Conclusion


God hates divorce because he hates sin (Psa. 5:4-5; Prov. 6:16-19; Isa. 6:3; 59:1-2). In the dissolution of a divinely sanctioned marriage, sin is always involved on the part of one party or the other or both. Entering into another sexual relationship with someone else then results in the sin of adultery (Mal. 3:5; Matt. 5:31-32; 19:3-9), which, like any other sinful conduct, must be discontinued to constitute repentance and to receive God’s gracious forgiveness (Luke 13:3-8; Acts 26:20; 1 Cor. 6:9-11).3


--Kevin L. Moore


Endnotes:

     1 Ezra returned to Jerusalem ca. 458 BC to reform the Jewish state, and Nehemiah ca. 453 BC to oversee the rebuilding of the city's walls.

     2 This textual variation is between the Masoretic Hebrew Text, on one hand, and the LXX, Targum, Arabic versions, and Latin Vulgate on the other. 

     3 See Biblical Doctrine of Divorce (Part 1) and accompanying Links.

 

Related PostsMinor Prophets (Part 3) 

 

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Tuesday, 9 November 2021

The “New Name” of Revelation 3:12

The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Rev. 3:12 ESV).

The book of Revelation is filled with terminology and images borrowed from the OT. Isaiah had prophesied that the people of God would be called by “a new name” (Isa. 62:2; 65:15). In the NT the name exalted above all others is that of Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:9-11), through whom salvation is granted (Acts 4:12) and the identifying moniker of the new-covenant people of God (Acts 11:26; Jas. 2:7). 


In Revelation 3:12, a message to the first-century church in the Asian city of Philadelphia, Christians are being encouraged to persevere and to overcome the challenges they are facing in order to be established in God’s “temple” (= the church, 1 Cor. 3:16-17; Eph. 2:21-22; 1 Tim. 3:15), wearing God’s name (1 Cor. 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; 2 Tim. 2:19; Rev. 14:1) and the name of God’s city (= the church, Heb. 12:22-23; Rev. 21:2-3; 22:14) and “my new name” (Jesus Christ) – a threefold emphasis identifying and confirming to whom the Lord’s faithful ones belong.


--Kevin L. Moore


Related PostsThe New Jerusalem: Heaven or the Church? (Rev. 21:1-5)What's in a Name?

 

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Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Confused by the Book of Revelation?

The Bible makes a distinction between the “milk” and the “solid food” of God’s word (Heb. 5:12-14). The book of Revelation would be in the “meat” category that cannot be understood without a foundational knowledge of the rest of scripture. Before any biblical text says anything to you or me, it has already spoken to those who first received it. 


The book of Revelation is addressed to the seven churches of the first-century Roman province of Asia (1:4, 11; 2:1–3:22), which may also be representative of the problems and needs of all the churches at the time. These Christians were suffering severe and widespread persecution that would eventually worsen (1:9; 2:10, 13; 3:10; 6:9; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24; 19:2; 20:4) and were being pressured to worship the secular ruling power (13:4, 15-16; 14:9-11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4). The most likely historical context of this manuscript is toward the end of the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian in the years 95-96.1


The final NT document represents a type of literature known as “apocalyptic,” characterized by highly symbolic language, common during times of great danger or oppression (like Daniel and Ezekiel).2 It was intended to disclose a message of hope, comfort, and reassurance to those being oppressed, while the symbolism hid the actual message from the oppressors. Most of the imagery in Revelation is borrowed from the OT, foreign to those unacquainted with scripture but familiar to these early Christians. 


Any interpretation of the fantastic symbolism that has little or no relevance, meaning, or application to the first-century Asian churches must be mistaken, and the repeated warnings of “what must happen quickly …. for the time is near” (1:1, 3; 22:6, 10)3 would otherwise be misleading. If would-be interpreters have little regard for the immediate audience of any writing, chances are the original sense will be misconstrued and the message misapplied. When the overall context of the Bible is ignored and the book of Revelation is interpreted through human imagination and conjecture, there is no end to the diverse and even absurd explanations of the text.


The theme of Revelation is VICTORY in Jesus (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 5:5; 12:11; 15:2; 17:14; 21:7), so the essential message continues to encourage all Christians who face similar circumstances.


--Kevin L. Moore


Endnotes:

     1 See Introducing the Book of Revelation (Part 2) <Link>.

     2 See Introducing the Book of Revelation (Part 3) <Link>.

     3 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.


Related PostsIntroducing the Book of Revelation (Part 1) <Link>; The New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:1-5) <Link>; Measuring the Heavenly City (Rev. 21:16) <Link>; The Number 666 (Rev. 13:18) <Link>

 

Image credit: https://brianpeytonjoyner.com/blog/podcast/bible-not-inerrant-robert-cottrell/man-with-clouds-bible/

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Let the One Reading Understand

In the records of Christ’s Olivet Discourse reported by Matthew and Mark, as Jesus alludes to the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy concerning “the abomination of desolation,” the respective authors have inserted a parenthetical comment: “let the [one] reading understand” (Matt. 24:15; Mark 13:14).1 What is the significance of this statement?


A Popular Inference


Because of the exact repetition of the words (ὁ ἀναγινώσκων νοείτω) in the two Gospels, a number of critics have claimed this is indicative (proof?) of literary dependency, i.e., copying from one or the other or from a common literary source.2 However, this explanation fails to appreciate the surrounding textual differences, the transmission of biblical data from an ancient-oral-culture perspective, the widespread dissemination of verbal instruction, as well as the function of collective memory.3


Notwithstanding the Holy Spirit’s guidance, both Matthew and Mark lived and wrote in the same historical period and would have shared much more in common than just literary sources.4 If we take the internal textual evidence at face value rather than relying on subjective literary theory and philosophical presuppositions that drive the conclusions of many liberal scholars,5 questions of authorship and dating are much less daunting and the biblical texts themselves are more readily explicable.


A More Contextual Approach


Seeing that no one in the early centuries of Christianity had his or her own personal copy of the Bible, the parenthetical comment in the accounts of Matthew and Mark appears to be a note inserted in the written text for the public reader in church assemblies.6 The Gospels of Matthew and Mark were likely written within a comparable timeframe not long before this prophecy was fulfilled, i.e., by the instigation of the Jewish War that led to Jerusalem’s destruction.7 Not only would the directive invite the reader (and listeners) “to identify with the immediate followers of Jesus and respond as they were expected to,”8 it would serve as “a clue to Christian eyes but an enigma to others, presumably the imperial authorities.”9


This simple parenthetical insertion, decades after the Lord issued the prophetic warning, confirms that the prophecy was to be fulfilled during the lifetime of his contemporary disciples (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30) and their awareness of the signs about which he spoke. Particularly relevant to Matthew’s reading audience was the object of the prophecy’s fulfillment (nationalistic Judaism), while particularly relevant to Mark’s readers was the channel of the prophecy’s fulfillment (Rome).


Although we live centuries after the fact, these words have been preserved in the biblical text for our learning. Therefore, let the one reading understand.


--Kevin L. Moore


Endnotes:

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation. The Olivet Discourse is recorded in the 24th and 25th chapters of Matthew and paralleled in Mark 13:1-37 and Luke 21:5-36.

     2 See, e.g., B. D. Ehrman, The NT: Historical Introduction (4th ed.) 93; R. H. Stein, Studying the Synoptic Gospels (2nd ed.) 46; H. B. Swete, Commentary on Mark 305; “almost universal assent among contemporary New Testament scholars …” (D. A. Carson and D. J. Moo, An Introduction to the NT 91). Contra K. L. Moore, A Critical Introduction to the NT 48-55.

     3 See K. L. Moore, “Oral Transmission of the Biblical Records,” Moore Perspective (18 Jan. 2012), <Link>.

     4 While Jesus and his immediate followers spoke Aramaic, from Pentecost onwards the oral transmission of the gospel message was not limited to this language (Acts 2:4-11; 8:4; 11:19-20). Since these teachings came to be recorded in Greek, it is only natural to assume they had also been verbally communicated in Greek, particularly among the Hellenists, the Greeks, and the bilingual populace of the Roman Empire. Even Aramaic-speaking Palestinian Jews were proficient in Greek. See A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek NT 26-29; D. A. Caron and D. J. Moo, An Introduction to the NT 240, 624, 644-45; J. D. G. Dunn, The Parting of the Ways 41-47; F. F. Bruce, NT History 217-19.

     5 Redaction critics scrutinize how authors allegedly created literary works by editing and modifying their source(s) of information. However, this popular theoretical approach is “based upon reasoning developed out of a ‘logocentric’ perspective -- the idea that any similarities MUST have been the result of copying -- out of a grossly anachronistic assumption that ‘simpler is earlier’ rooted in evolutionary thought, and out of grossly anachronistic assumptions about ancient methods of composition” (J. P. Holding, “Relationship of the Synoptic Gospels”). The authors of the NT Gospels “ought rather to be thought of as men who had keen interest in the material that passed through their hands and a full knowledge of the extent of the tradition, from which they were drawing what served their purpose to best advantage” (E. F. Harrison, Introduction to the NT 153).

     6 See K. L. Moore, “Sociocultural Context (Part 8): Public Reading” Moore Perspective (14 Aug. 2019), <Link>; and “The Public Reading of God’s Word,” Moore Perspective (29 Jan. 2020), <Link>. C. Bryan says this “is probably to be understood as a stage direction to ‘the one who reads aloud (that is, to the assembly).’ If so, then in performance these words should be omitted, on the principle that one does not recite stage directions, one carries them out” (Preface to Mark 111 n. 9). Others, however, see this as applicable to the reader of Daniel [cf. 12:10] (R. T. France, Gospel According to Matthew TNTC 340; R. H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary 481). 

     7 Luke’s account of the Olivet Discourse does not include the parenthetical statement, which is understandable if his Gospel was published much earlier. See K. L. Moore, A Critical Introduction to the NT 55-57; also “The Dating of Luke-Acts and Why it Matters,” Moore Perspective (4 March 2012), <Link>.

     8 L. Perkins, “‘Let the Reader Understand’ – a Contextual Interpretation” 11.

     9 V. Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark (2nd ed.) 511.

 

Related PostsMatthew 24: the End of the World or Jerusalem's Fall?Matthew's AudienceMark's Audience 

 

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Wednesday, 20 October 2021

The Hard Work of Bible Study

If we accept the Bible as the inspired word of God, we are compelled to approach its message with utmost respect and care. “Scripture begins a conversation that is interpersonal and potentially life-changing, because it is God who initiates the dialogue.”1 Bible study is rewarding only when it is done right, requiring a serious mind and a strong commitment. “We are dealing with God’s thoughts: we are obligated to take the greatest pains to understand them truly and to explain them clearly.”2 


At the end of a remarkable life in the Lord’s service, including an enormously impactful teaching and writing ministry,3 the apostle Paul produced his final apostolic manuscript that preserves his last documented words. What the aged apostle regarded as of highest importance was knowing and serving the Lord (2 Tim. 1:1, 3, 8, 11, 12; 2:3, 10, 21; 4:5, 11), while rightly discerning, obeying, defending, and propagating the Lord’s revealed will as recorded in scripture (1:13; 2:2, 9, 14-19, 24-25; 3:14-17; 4:2-4, 17).


In 2 Timothy 2:15 we read in English translation:

·      “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (NKJV).

·      Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (NASB).

·      Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (ESV).

·      Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately” (NET).4


What is this passage saying, and how does it apply to us today? Among other things, Bible study (exegesis) involves establishing the literary context, considering the broader context, translation, comparative analysis, identifying key concepts, and word study. By engaging in biblical exegesis, we learn something here about biblical exegesis. 


The current text follows a previous letter to Timothy that provides background and supplementary information, along with the larger context of Paul’s life and ministry, his other writings, and the rest of the Bible. Leading up to the above admonition the apostle has been urging Timothy to be brave, faithful, and strong, to endure and work hard. And Paul’s instructions have much broader applicability (cf. 2:2; 3:16-17; 4:2; also 1 Tim. 1:3; 4:6-16).


The verbal spoudázō (lit. “hasten”) conveys the sense of “labor,” “exert,” “give full diligence.”The verbal orthotoméō (lit. “cut straight”) means to “handle correctly” or “rightly expound.” The expression, “the word of truth,” consists of “the word  [tòn lógon], descriptive of deliberate and specific communication, while “the truth” [tēs alētheías] implies an objective standard of doctrine.6


What do we learn from this text about how the word of truth is to be interpreted and applied? What would be the opposite of this that ought to be avoided? What is required, according to this passage, to receive God’s approval and avoid shame? 


“The problem of interpreting a passage from the Bible is one to which we would all like to find the key, some simple and easy formula that will enable us to approach any text of Scripture and quickly establish its meaning. Alas, there is no such simple answer …”7 Without the investment of considerable time, devotion, mental exertion, and prayer, we run the risk of missing and/or misunderstanding God’s revealed will.


When I read a local newspaper or newsfeed, I interpret its contents with little conscious effort because I am familiar with the literary conventions and share the same cultural context as those who wrote and published the articles. However, the interpretive process becomes more complicated when I try to understand a literary work from another country or different culture, and the task becomes even more daunting when attempting to interpret ancient literary texts, like the Bible, even further removed. 


“There are significant gaps in our knowledge of the literary conventions, language, and social settings that surround and inhabit biblical texts. We live in a different time and place than the times and places in which and to which the Bible originally spoke. Deliberate attention to these issues and painstaking work at many junctures are required.”8 In other words, exert full diligence to present yourself acceptable to God, an unashamed worker correctly handling the word of truth.


--Kevin L. Moore


Endnotes:

     1 J. K. Brown, Scripture as Communication (2nd ed.) 3.

     2 D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (2nd ed.) 15. 

     3 Note, e.g., 2 Tim. 1:12-13; 4:6-8; 2 Pet. 3:14-16.

     4 Other interpretive renderings include: “Study … a workman … rightly dividing the word of truth” (KJV); Be diligent … a worker … correctly teaching the word of truth” (CSB); Do your best … a worker … rightly explaining the word of truth” (NRSV). Ernst Wendland renders the text, “to present yourself to God as a person who has proven to be worthy and with no cause for shame” (“2 Timothy—translationNotes” 34). 

     5 See Gal. 2:10; Eph. 4:3; 1 Thess. 2:17; 1 Tim. 2:15; 4:9  21; Tit. 3:1; Heb. 4:11; 2 Pet. 1:10, 15; 3:14.

     6 When Paul penned these directives, “the word of truth” was not limited to just the OT and the spoken word. The Greek term graphē (“scripture”) applies to something written, and Paul goes on to say that all “scripture” is divinely inspired (3:16). At the time, the writings of Luke were already regarded as “scripture” (1 Tim. 5:18), and within a comparable timeframe so were Paul’s (2 Pet. 3:15-16). See What the Scriptures say about the Scriptures.

     7 I. Howard Marshall, “Introduction,” in NT Interpretation 11.

     8 J. K. Brown, Scripture as Communication (2nd ed.) 11.

 

Related Posts: The Holy Spirit's Role in Biblical InterpretationThe Heart of Bible Study 


Addendum: Seeing that God desires all to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4), he has clearly made this knowledge accessible and attainable. However, it is not the case he has made it so easy (note 2 Pet. 3:16!) that knowledge just happens by accident with no effort from the recipient. “The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God” (Psa. 14:2, NKJV). God seeks those who seek him. “But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 4:29); “so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27). For those sincerely desiring to know the Lord and his will, demonstrated by the effort expended, he provides the way. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matt. 7:7-8).

 

Image credit: adapted from https://clearipcc.in/how-not-to-get-distracted-while-reading/

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Zechariah 13:8-9, two-thirds cut off, one-third refined through fire?

The prophet Zechariah prophesied around 520 BC, the second year of Darius, king of Persia. Like his contemporary Haggai, Zechariah was commissioned to motivate the post-exilic Jews, but unlike the fiery speeches of Haggai, Zechariah encouraged with positive glimpses of Jerusalem’s future. He pleaded with his fellow-Jews to learn from and not repeat the sins of their forefathers, while he issued warnings to the enemies of God’s people. He also shared visions of Jerusalem’s glorious future, along with a number of messianic allusions (e.g. 9:9; 12:10; 13:7; 14:9).

In the midst of these prophecies the Lord declared: “‘And it shall come to pass in all the land,’ Says the Lord, That two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die, But one-third shall be left in it: I will bring the one-third through the fire, Will refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them. I will say, ‘This is My people’; And each one will say, ‘The Lord is my God’” (Zech. 13:8-9 NKJV).


This is clearly a messianic prophecy, as v. 7 is quoted in Matthew 26:31 and applied to Jesus. The initial focus of Christ’s earthly ministry was “the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 15:24). Although most would reject him, ultimately the Lord’s flock was much larger than the physical descendants of Abraham (John 10:16; Rom. 9:24-26). Nevertheless, the Jewish people were God’s initial flock. They were the first or “firstborn” (cf. Rom. 1:16; 2:10, 17-20; 9:4; cp. Luke 15:11-32). 


In Judaism the firstborn not only had special status but greater responsibility and was therefore granted a double portion of the family’s inheritance (Ex. 4:22; Deut. 21:17). This, it seems, is the significance of “two-thirds” in Zechariah 13:8. The majority of the original flock, having been granted a double portion – a covenant with God, the law, the land, special favor (Rom. 3:1-2; 9:4-5; etc.) – rejected Christ and would then suffer the consequences (Matt. 23:37-38; Rom. 2:5). 


A remnant (Rom. 9:27; 11:2-5), inclusive of Gentile believers (Rom. 2:28-29; 9:6; 11:15-23), would face fiery persecution and be refined through it (1 Pet. 1:6-7), calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 2:21; 9:14, 21; 22:16). They would be counted as the people of God “in all the land” (Heb. erets, or “earth”), beginning in Jerusalem and all Judea but ultimately throughout the world (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; 15:17).


“Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Return to me,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Zech. 1:3).


--Kevin L. Moore

 

Related Posts: Minor Prophets (Part 3) 

 

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Wednesday, 6 October 2021

The Priesthood of Melchizedek

The order of the Melchizedek priesthood is a prominent theme in the NT epistle of Hebrews (5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1-28), even though the inspired writer(s) acknowledge the doctrine is “hard to explain” (Heb. 5:10-11). The teaching begins with the historical account of Melchizedek, the king of Salem (Heb. 7:1-10; see Gen. 14:17-20; Psa. 110:4). His name means “king of righteousness,” and “Salem” (or shalom) means “peace” (Heb. 7:1-2). Righteousness and peace are also qualities of the messianic king and his kingdom (cf. Heb. 1:8; Psa. 72:7; Isa. 9:6-7). 


Melchizedek was “priest of the Most High God,” long before the Levitical priesthood of the Israelites. Some form of mediatorial priesthood seems to have existed from the earliest times, the duties of which were discharged by those who occupied positions of leadership.Abraham gave Melchizedek “a tenth of all [the spoils of his victory],” following the rescue of Lot and after Melchizedek had blessed him (Heb. 7:1-2a; cf. Gen. 14:14-20). 


Melchizedek is said to have been without father, mother, genealogy, beginning or end (Heb. 7:3a), which must be understood with respect to his priesthood. Under the Law of Moses the office of priest was determined by ancestry (cf. Deut. 18:1-8). Melchizedek’s priesthood was conferred directly from God, perhaps based on personal credentials, but was not inherited from his parents or according to genealogical descent. The Levitical priesthood (through Aaron’s family) was passed on from generation to generation, so there was a beginning and an end in conjunction with the lifespan of each priest (cf. Heb. 7:23; Num. 20:24-29). Melchizedek’s priesthood was not inherited by a predecessor or passed on to a successor, thus there was no beginning or end in the sense of succession. 


Melchizedek was “made like the Son of God” in that his priesthood abides “continually” (NKJ) or “perpetually” (NAS) or “forever” (NIV) (Heb. 7:3b). The Melchizedek order of priesthood is superior to the Levitical order of priesthood (Heb. 7:4-10) for the following reasons. First, Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham (vv. 4-6) – the acknowledged father of all Jews. Second, Melchizedek (the greater) blessed Abraham (the lesser) (v. 7). Third, mortal (lit. “dying”) men (i.e., Levitical priests) receive tithes “here” (presently–at the time of writing), but they eventually die and are succeeded, whereas Melchizedek received tithes “there” (in the past) but he “lives on” (v. 8); as far as historical documentation, his death is unrecorded and he lives on in scripture, and he lives on in the sense that his priesthood has no end (cf. v. 3). Finally, Levi himself, in proxy through his great-grandfather Abraham, paid ties to Melchizedek (vv. 9-10). 


The rest of the chapter addresses the importance of the new priesthood (Heb. 7:11-28), and the main point is that Jesus is now our great High Priest and therefore superior to the old-covenant system of the Jews (Heb. 8:1–10:23). As a descendent of Judah rather than Levi he could not serve as high priest under the old system. But since his priesthood is according to a different order, viz. the order of Melchizedek, his role is divinely authorized and scripturally justified for the reasons just given.


-- Kevin L. Moore


Endnote:

     1 Cain and Abel made offerings to the Lord (Gen. 4:3-4; Heb. 11:4). Noah “built an altar to the LORD . . . and offered burnt offerings on the altar” (Gen. 8:20). Job offered burnt offerings for his children (Job 1:5). Abraham built an altar and offered a ram for a burnt offering (Gen. 22:9-13; cf. 12:7, 8; 13:4, 18). Melchizedek was “the priest of God Most High” (Gen. 14:18-20; Heb. 7:1-10). Jethro was “the priest of Midian (Ex. 2:16; 3:1). Following their deliverance from exile in Egypt, a priesthood limited to Aaron and his family was established among Israel (Ex. 28 ff.).

 

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